Oscar's new documentary rules become hot topic

Tue Oct 7, 2008 6:49am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - A controversy is brewing over a change to Oscar's feature documentary rules.

Because of the change -- which required a one-week qualifying run in New York by August 31 -- one of the year's most buzzed-about documentaries, the Israeli animated film "Waltz With Bashir," won't be eligible for consideration. A host of executives and festival veterans are calling on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to revise the rule.

"I can't understand why the Academy is making it even more difficult for documentaries by saying you need some kind of shadow release," New York Film Festival programer Richard Pena said. "I don't see how this policy helps the greater good of cinema."

The Academy's goal -- as it has tinkered with its rules for documentary eligibility -- has been to encourage theatrical exhibition of documentaries with awards hopes.

Under the previous rules, that meant a doc had to be screened for one week in either Los Angeles or New York, while also logging 14 three-day bookings in at least 10 states.

For the upcoming 81st Annual Academy Awards, the rule was simplified: This year, contending docs are simply required to screen for one week in both Los Angeles County and Manhattan by August 31.

But while a distributor could avoid New York under the old rules, under the new rule an early New York screening is required. Distributors, on the other hand, don't want to expose films to the New York media until they begin their formal rollouts.

There's an added complication: If a film opens in New York for a qualifying run during the first half of the year, then the prestigious New York Film Festival, which insists on screening New York premieres, won't program it.   Continued...

<p>An Oscar statue stands on the red carpet during preparations for the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood February 23, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>